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Saudi Arabia foreign minister denies diplomatic ‘crisis’ with Lebanon


Faisal bin Farhan, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister arrives at Matera’s G-20 foreign- and development ministry meeting on June 29, 2021.

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Saudi Arabia’s foreign Minister has dismissed claims that Saudi Arabia has a diplomatic problem with Lebanon, but said his country does not consider any existing engagements with Beirut to be “productive or helpful.”

These comments follow Saudi Arabia’s order to expel Lebanon’s ambassador following “insulting” remarks made by a Lebanese Minister.

“I don’t think I would call it a crisis,” Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble in Rome, Italy on Saturday, but said the comments by the Lebanese minister — which referred to Saudi Arabia’s role in the ongoing civil war in Yemen — demonstrated the Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah was increasingly dominant in Lebanese politics.

Prince Faisal stated that he believes the current approach to Lebanon and the government it is in place with Hezbollah’s continued dominance on the political scene and what he perceives as an ongoing reluctance from this government and Lebanese politicians in general to implement the reforms necessary to move Lebanon towards real change.

“We’ve decided to stop engaging at this stage because it isn’t productive or helpful.” This is not actually in our interests.”

Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi made remarks in an interview in which he referred to the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen and called the war “futile.”He appeared also to suggest that Saudi Arabian and United Arab Emirates were the aggressors.

In Yemen’s civil war, that lasted for seven years, Saudi-led troops (which support Yemeni government), have been fighting Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in an effort to seize control.

Saudi Arabia responded to these comments by ordering the Lebanese ambassador out of country within 48 hours and recalling its ambassador from Lebanon. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the UAE took similar steps in solidarity.

Lebanese officials have tried to end the diplomatic crisis by saying that Kordahi’s comments, which were made just before he became minister, did not represent their position. Pressure has mounted on Kordahi to also resign. For his part, Kordahi has said he did not mean to offend Saudi Arabia or the UAE.

CNBC’s Prince Faisal said that comments made by Lebanese minister are “a sign of a fact, that Lebanon is dominated by Hezbollah terrorist group. A group which, by the way supplies arms, trains and provides weapons to the Houthi militia.”

It is not just one minister’s comments, but a more comprehensive indicator of Lebanon’s current state.

Economic crisis

According to the World Bank, Lebanon’s current financial crisis is among the most severe in recent history. The government of Lebanon has failed for many years to implement political and economic reforms in order to control its debt and clean up its banking system. It also fails to tackle corruption and political oligarchs.

There are 18 religious groups in Lebanon. It is home to 18 different religious communities. This makes it a unique and widely criticised consensus government. Accordingly, the president, prime minister and speaker must be from each of three major religion groups of Lebanon: Sunni Christian, Maronite Christian, or Shiite.

According to Lebanese experts and citizens, this setup encourages and facilitates corruption and graft and interferes with foreign power via various sectarian organizations.


The conflict in Yemen has been often seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia, Iran and other bitter rivals in Middle East power.

For years, the Sunni Muslim and Shiite powers supported opposing parties in political and regional disputes. In 2016, they severed diplomatic ties.

However, talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia started in April to address long-standing conflicts.

Riyadh stated earlier in the month that it held direct negotiations with Iran’s newly elected government in September shortly after Ebrahim Raisi was elected as a hardline, anti-Western cleric.

Prince Faisal said that the talks between Riyadh (and Tehran) were cordial. according to The Financial TimesThe term “exploratory” is used to describe negotiations.

CNBC spoke with Prince Faisal on Saturday. He confirmed that talks are continuing, but that there has been no progress.

We are speaking. The kingdom is committed to finding ways of establishing understandings with Iran in order to address regional instability and allow us all the opportunity for a bright future. These talks are exploratory at best. Four rounds have taken place. [of discussions]So far. Another round may come. That is something we are working on. However, we are still far from making any significant progress. They have, however, been positive enough for us to continue discussing the matter, although nothing has been concrete.

The latest indication that frosty relations between regional rivals may be starting to warm is his comments made in Rome. Hossein Amirabdollahian was the Iranian foreign minister. He stated that negotiations to enhance diplomatic ties have come a long way. Last week, Iran resumed exports to Saudi ArabiaFor the first time in a year since rivals stopped bilateral trade.

It was revealed last week that the global powers will resume negotiations with Iran aiming to revive the 2015 nuclear deal that lifted sanctions on the Islamic Republic in exchange for curbs to its nuclear program. 

Saudi Arabia’s Prince Faisal expressed concern among the western countries that Iran should keep its promises in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. This refers to the reduction of Iran’s nuclear activities and the allowing inspections of Iran by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“It’s crucial for us that we address Iran’s continued nuclear activities. We see Iran continuing its commitments, not only to JCPOA but to the Non Proliferation Treaty.” [a treaty aimed at limiting the spread of nuclear weapons]You can find it here. I believe it is also crucial that you deal with the non-access issue for IAEA. These are threats to the stability and security of regional regions,” he stated.

Prince Faisal spoke on the sidelines at the G-20 summit held in Rome. Two-day weekend gathering brings together leaders from 20 of the largest countries in the world to meet face-to-face for the first time in nearly two years.

—CNBC’s Natasha Turak contributed to this article.